Organized crime tampers with European card swipe devices

October 13, 2008

Wow, couldn’t see this coming…

Hundreds of card swipers used by retail stores across Europe are believed to have been tampered by organized crime syndicates in China and Pakistan, according to US National Counterintelligence Executive Joel Brenner (described as the “US top cyber security official”).

Brenner told The Daily Telegraph that criminals have doctored chip and PIN machines either during manufacturing in China or shortly after leaving the production line in order to send shopper credit card account details overseas. The devices were then expertly resealed and exported to Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Belgium.

“Previously only a nation state’s intelligence service would have been capable of pulling off this type of operation,” Brenner told the publication. “It’s scary.”

Hundreds of devices have been copying credit and debit card details over the past nine months and sending the data by way of mobile phone networks to tech-savvy criminals in Lahore, Pakistan, The Telegraph reports.

MasterCard International has alerted stores in affected areas and determined doctored devices can most easily be revealed by virtue of weighing an extra three to four ounces due to the additional parts they contain. MasterCard first uncovered the plot at the start of the year after detecting suspicious charges to British and other European accounts.

The scam is believed to have resulted in the loss of tens of millions of pounds by criminals creating cloned cards, making phone or internet transactions, or withdrawing cash from the account. The Telegraph reports the thieves usually wait at least two months before using the stolen data in order to make it harder for investigators to determine what happened.

Brenner said the scam should motivate card swipe device makers to not only do more testing, but guard their supply chain in the same way jewelry suppliers do.

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One Response to “Organized crime tampers with European card swipe devices”


  1. A quote in the Wall Street Journal says the chip and pin hackers are performing at a level of sophistication that rivals foreign intelligence services. The implication: Payment card data security requires much, much more than just forcing merchants to lock down data and comply with the PCI (payment card industry data security standard). Card data security is on par with national security issues. Card security requires wholesale rethinking of the credit card system. The Federal Trade Commission misunderstands the magnitude of the problem. The FTC is locked in an old-fashioned belief that data in-security is due to stupid merchants (like TJX) treating consumers (and their privacy) “unfairly” by failing to secure their systems. We need fresh thinking and better leadership on this issue from the FTC. –Ben


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